The bio-fortified cassava, rich in vitamin A, is becoming widespread in Africa, driven by increasing awareness of its health and nutrition benefits.

Farmers harvesting cassava

The variety is changing the description of cassava ? a root crop often referred to as ?Africa?s best kept secret.?

According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), cassava, consumed by over 300 million people in Africa, has been marginalized in many debates because of myths and half-truths about its nutritional value and role in farming systems.

However, the greatest burden of the crop, the research institution says, is the stigma of being considered an inferior, low-protein food that is uncompetitive with glamorous crops, such as imported rice and wheat.

?But the perception about cassava is changing? with vitamin A cassava, we are not talking just about a crop that is rich in starch but about a crop that has one of the vitamins that are most important for human Development,? says Dr Wolfgang Pfeiffer, Deputy Director (Operations), Harvest Plus at the just concluded Crop Meeting, in Abuja.

Popularly called yellow cassava, vitamin A cassava, was bred by a coalition of partners, including International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

It was released in Nigeria in 2011.

The first wave, consisting of three varieties was disseminated to hundreds of thousands of farmers across the country.

IITA says farmers? adoption of the varieties is on an impressive scale and the appeal for the varieties has fuelled their spread for research trials to other African countries including Ghana, Benin, C?te d?Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Cameroon.

?Demand for the varieties is up and we have engaged farmers for multiplication,? Dr Pfeiffer explained. ?Our strategy is to get planting materials available to farmers so they can consume these nutritious varieties and improve their health.?

Vitamin A deficiency is a malady in Nigeria, affecting about 20 percent of pregnant women and 30 percent of children under 5 years, elsewhere in Africa the statistics are no better, says IAATA.

A lack of or a deficiency of vitamin A lowers immunity and impairs vision. This can lead to blindness and even death.

Paul Ilona, Country Manager, HarvestPlus Nigeria, estimates that about two billion people suffer from hidden hunger in which vitamin A is an integral part.

HarvestPlus and its partners are working on several staples to address hidden hunger, he says, and aspiring to release bio-fortified crops in 27 countries including those in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

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